Federal Criminal Restitution for Child Pornography Victims

On April 23, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued a much-anticipated decision concerning federal criminal restitution for child pornography victims. The case, Paroline v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1710, 188 L. Ed. 2d 714 (2014), attracted 14 amicus briefs supporting a victim named Amy, whose road to the Supreme Court started in 2008.

Victims of child pornography are harmed twice: first, by the sex abuse and sexual assault committed against them and, second, by the subsequent distribution and collection of the images and videos depicting their sexual abuse. The worldwide, ubiquitous circulation of a victim’s child pornography is a never-ending invasion of privacy that is both psychologically traumatizing and emotionally unsettling.

Congress addressed these serious harms by including the Mandatory Restitution for Sex Crimes provision within the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Pub. L. No. 103-322, § 40113(b)(1), 108 Stat. 1902, 1904 (codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2248, 2259 (2012)). The provision codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2259 provides for mandatory restitution for various offenses involving the sexual exploitation of children found in sections 2251–2258.

As part of a remedial statutory scheme, 18 U.S.C. § 2259 requires federal courts to issue restitution orders to victims of child pornography crimes, which include the creation, distribution, trafficking, and possession of child sex abuse images and videos. Courts are required to hold individual defendants liable for the “full amount” of a victim’s out-of-pocket losses, including the cost of psychological treatment, lost income, and attorney fees.

Read the rest of this article at the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation Children’s Rights Litigation newsletter.


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